Keeping a Journal during Your Recovery: Organizing Your Thoughts as You Re-organize Your Life

Posted on June 11th, 2012

As you seek to put the scourge of substance abuse behind you, you will inevitably need to go through a period of intense self-reflection. Remembering the things you did in the past while you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol will not be a pleasant experience. But it is something that you will have to do if you are to have any chance of overcoming your addiction. If you try to bury your memories instead of dealing with them they will come back to haunt you in the form of anxiety, depression, guilt, remorse, and low self-esteem, and ultimately these feelings will greatly increase your chances of relapse.

Those who are putting in the hard work necessary to defeat an addiction will go through so many conflicting emotions during their treatment and recovery period that at times it will all seem completely overwhelming. Fortunately, if you are in this position there is a tried-and-true method for self-healing that can help you organize your thoughts and emotions in a coherent and manageable way. And that the simple act of writing them down in your own personal diary or journal can put so much about your addiction into perspective.

The Benefits of Writing

Researchers have carried out a number of studies on journal writing and the role it can play in the restoration of good mental and physical health. What they have discovered is that keeping a written record of everything that is felt and experienced during recovery from a physical illness or a psychologically debilitating condition really does make a positive and lasting impact. Among the benefits that have been measured in medical patients who have kept a personal journal during their recovery period include improved immune system functioning, a decrease in physical pain, a reduced need for medication, and a dramatic lessening of the symptoms of depression. People recovering from health problems who keep a diary or journal will need to make far fewer visits to the doctor on average, and they will tend to score much better on tests that measure overall psychological well-being.

Some of this may not seem like it applies to addiction per se. But in a general sense, what these studies are showing is that writing down your thoughts and emotions when you are going through a difficult recovery from any type of ailment helps to restore the body and the mind to balanced, healthy states. Good physical and emotional health will empower any human being facing any type of daunting task or quest. As such, those attempting to get past a substance abuse problem need all the help they can get as they attempt to exorcise the powerful demons of drug and alcohol addiction that have been possessing their souls for so long. Given the enormity of the challenge they are confronting, the spiritually transforming mind-body therapeutic effects of journal keeping come highly recommended for each and every person attempting to tackle the implacable foe of addiction.

How it Works

Traumatic and unpleasant experiences lie like time bombs in the subconscious, waiting to detonate on a hair trigger. Recovering addicts carry massive amounts of baggage along with them when they enter treatment, and they must additionally deal with all the fresh stresses that life throws at them as they try to make their way through the world without the relying on their crutch.

The reason why journal writing works so well for people in this situation is because it allows them to analyze everything that has happened to them, and everything they are feeling, in a way that makes it much easier for their minds to process. Human beings in their heart are storytellers, and putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – allows those in recovery to structure their experiences in a digestible narrative form.

Journal writing can help addicts gain vital perspective, but it is important to focus on the present and not wallow in the past. When you write about your previous experiences, rather than reliving those times vividly in your mind it is much better to focus on what your feelings are about those events now, in the present. Of course, getting stuck in the past should not be a problem when you are writing about the daily stresses of living, but regardless of what is causing the anxiety, pain, or confusion your ultimate goal is to learn how to deal within an entirely new way, sans drugs or alcohol. In your old life, you used to avoid or deny your problems by escaping from them into a chemical haze, and if you choose to keep living in the past when you are trying to get sober the chances are quite good that you will end up falling back into your previous self-destructive pattern of behavior.

The point of journal writing is to develop a new way to cope with stress, disappointment, and guilt. To make it work, you must put your full trust in your journal, really believe in what it represents. As you write, pretend that you are talking to a trusted friend; someone who you know will always give you the love, understanding, and sympathy that you so desperately need as you try to come to terms with the mess you have made of your life.

Bringing Order to the Chaos of Addiction

For journal keeping to work for you, you must be diligent in your efforts and you must take the project seriously. Take at least 20 minutes every single day to write about what you have been thinking and feeling, don’t hold anything back, and do your best to put it all into a framework that makes sense to you. This process can be incredibly cathartic, and that is the reason why addicts who keep journals will come out on the other side as healthier, happier beings.

Addiction is so insidious because it is a bringer of chaos, an agent of initiation for the dark night of the soul. However, when you make a determined effort to organize your experiences and your thoughts about your life through the use of careful self-analysis and the written word, you can effectively counteract the corrupting and disordering effects of alcohol and drug dependence. Journal writing is a tool for empowerment, and if you are an addict it is a powerful method for coping and change that can help you overcome the deep pain and feelings of helplessness that have ruled your existence for far too long.

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